City Journal last month released a survey that asked 18- to 20-year-olds whether they had been taught six concepts, of which four are central to critical race theory: “America is a systemically racist country,” “White people have white privilege,” “White people have unconscious biases that negatively affect non-white people,” “America is built on stolen land,” “America is a patriarchal society,” and “Gender is an identity choice.”
Each was answered in the affirmative by a majority of participants, of whom more than 80% attended public schools. That’s curious given that public educators and their defenders in corporate media have been claiming for years that CRT is not taught in schools.
“Teaching critical race theory isn’t happening in classrooms, teachers say in survey,” reported NBC in July 2021. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson in June 2021 called the controversy over CRT “manufactured,” while his colleague Karen Attiah the same month called it “hot air.”
Since then, the narrative has evolved. A November 2021 PBS report, for example, explained, “There is little to no evidence that critical race theory itself is being taught to K-12 public school students, though some ideas central to it . . . have been.”
That’s naïve if not disingenuous. Few high-schoolers know the names of the philosophical schools of utilitarianism and scientific materialism, but most of them are trained in their premises.
There’s an added dimension, given that The New York Times’ 1619 Project’s curriculum has been disseminated across the country to public schools responsible for teaching millions of students. There are other CRT-friendly public-school curricula: The Southern Poverty Law Center for years has been pushing its “Teaching Hard History” program, which many school districts have adopted, including in my home state of Virginia.
Concerned parents need guides to effectively respond to these “anti-racist” curricula, and scholar Mary Grabar has written one: “Debunking the 1619 Project: Exposing the Plan to Divide America.” Grabar, who crossed swords with 1619 Project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones so many times that NHJ blocked her on Twitter, offers a careful rebuke to CRT’s problematic (and often erroneous) claims. Grabar explains: “We must understand The 1619 Project: its divisive aims and its dishonest methods, its sweeping historical misjudgments and its blatant errors of fact. And we must drive its lies and its poisonous race-baiting out of public institutions, beginning with the official curricula of our schools.”
The book’s early chapters deal with the historical inaccuracies and irresponsible reductionism of the original essays in The New York Times Magazine. (Tellingly, a lot of the project’s language was deleted or changed following public outcry and critiques from respected professional historians who said the authors had replaced history with ideology.) For example, put on the defensive by backlash to her claims that 1619, not 1776, is America’s true founding, NHJ claimed the 1619 Project “does not argue that 1619 is our true founding.” Yet Hannah-Jones herself had previously tweeted, “I argue that 1619 is our true founding.”
The blatant historical errors have been well covered elsewhere, so I’ll note just a few. The 1619 Project argues the colonies declared independence “to protect the institution of slavery,” though there’s virtually no historical evidence to substantiate that. It asserts American slavery was “unlike anything that had existed in the world before,” though any cursory survey of the ancient world, medieval and post-medieval Africa and the Ottoman Empire puts that idea to rest. Slave traders from the Barbary Coast alone enslaved and brutalized more than 1 million Southern Europeans between 1500 and 1800.
And NHJ fundamentally misreads the effect of the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision, which, far from “enshrining” the idea that blacks are a “slave race,” likely expedited the peculiar institution’s demise, with the Civil War starting only four years later.
“Debunking the 1619 Project” contains other, perhaps less-well-known information. Contra NHJ’s claims of intellectual novelty, black Americans have been discussing and memorializing the arrival of a Portuguese slave ship at Jamestown in 1619 for more than a century. There’s also the complicated fact many blacks profitably participated as slave owners in the antebellum Southern economy (Grabar doesn’t mention it, but so did many Native Americans). That by no means excuses white slaveholders’ sins, but it certainly muddles the Manichaean narratives anti-racist ideologues preach.
Yet there’s another component to this story beyond bad history: NHJ’s and fellow anti-racist pseudo-intellectuals’ self-serving exploitation of the remarkably lucrative grievance industry. She charges about $25,000 per speaking engagement (between September 2019 and February 2021, she made 33 appearances on college campuses, many of them remotely). She not long ago earned a staggering $55,000 for a single speech at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “White Fragility” author Robin DiAngelo charges $30,000 for a 60-to-90-minute speech.
Americans, many motivated by misplaced white guilt, are paying grievance-industry celebrities to inculcate a spirit of resentment, cynicism and victimhood across an entire generation of youth. The data City Journal compiled demonstrates that. So does peer-reviewed research on what students are learning in social-studies classrooms.
Consider one article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Social Studies Research. The authors observe a teacher provoke a class discussion on the failure of Galveston, Texas, to heed warnings from Cuba before a 1900 hurricane wrecked the city. “That was just racist that we didn’t listen to them,” say the students. “Good answers,” the teacher tells them.
Adapted from Spectator World.